I was visiting my family while on winter break from college. They were still pretty new to California life, and hadn’t yet found a church. One night, we visited a little dinky place in a rundown old neighborhood. There was more dirt than grass, more stray dogs than people, and everything had a chain-link fence surrounding it. The church members didn’t seem to have much more life in them than the neighborhood. They were pretty much all old, except for a few little girls. I was already unenthused. Campus devotionals and church-bound carpools were my norm in Florida. Worship without peers seemed so…dull. Then the singing started, and my judgement was sealed. After all, I usually worshipped surrounded by college students with Pitch Perfect singing skills. After services, I adamantly instructed my mom, “no matter what, you can’t choose this church.” The unfortunate acoustics and aged demographics of the congregation just weren’t up to snuff for my teenage siblings’ needs—I was convinced of it.
Next school break, I found myself in that same decrepit building. My mom had blatantly disregarded my words. The Angelos were officially members of the Musically and Youthfully Challenged Congregation, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no choice but to sing along and try to get to know my new church family. Now, four years later, I’m saying goodbye to the group that I tried so hard to avoid, and I can’t imaging this last episode of my life without them all. It’s hard to imagine how I could have had such judgement sentiments about such a beautiful group, and the remembrance fills me with a wave of humility.
A bit of a rant:
There’s a misconception in modern church culture that it’s absolutely normal for everyone to kind of just “church” with the people they have stuff in common with, and that misconception is particularly accepted when it comes to age. Even our seating arrangements betray our partiality, with “college” sections, “high school” sections, and “young parent” sections, we demonstrate our relationships in pew form.
Youth groups cater to young people’s prioritization of peers, making communion with like-minds more focal than communion with Christ-minds. In a culture that values youth over experience, we say, “Hey young people, don’t leave God! If you come to church we’ll plan fun events for you and your fellow young Christians. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hang out with the old people.” Veteran members age out, some eventually becoming “shut-ins” who are only members in name. We might visit them in their houses sometimes, or maybe send a card. At the least, we’ll remember to pray about them occasionally. For the most part, though, we seem to buy into the world’s value system of age: entertain and engage the youth so that they will stay with you during their adult years. They’re the ones who need—and demand, and deserve—the attention.
Maybe it’s not as caste-system-esque as all that. Maybe we all just like being around our friends, around the people with whom we have things in common. Still, this is pretty short-sighted. No, I’m not saying that sitting with people of similar ages is inherently sinful or wrong. What I am saying is that there’s something selfish about seeking out people in the church who are similar to you. That statement sounds pretty judge-y, and please don’t think that I’m propagating that I am free of the charge. I think I do that all the time. I think it’s human nature. But then, human nature is a lot of what we’re called to rise above.
When I surround myself with only peers, I’m safe. We have things in common. We’re in a similar stage of life, we’ve more likely had similar childhoods. We are seeking the same things. We think the same things are fun. We wear similar clothing. We know similar people. We talk in a similar way about similar stuff. We have similar obligations and struggles and thoughts. Our peers are our equals. They give us our sense of self worth, and we can measure ourselves against them. They’re comfortable, because they are familiar. It’s easy. So easy, in fact, that we fall into relationship without even intending to preference one group over another.
I’m not saying that surrounding yourself with peers is malicious. I’m just saying it’s the kind of self-centered activity that inhibits us from fully living out the unified beauty of church that God intended.
Don’t take my word for it:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Five reasons why you should try to befriend a non-age-similar Christian:
- Jesus cared about the children, even when the apostles were like, “Hey get out of here you little brats.”
- Jesus cared about the societally marginalized, even when everyone was like, “Hey, why are you breaking in through the ceiling?”
- Christians with different perspectives can enrich your walk and challenge you to view your faith from a different angle
- You can offer different blessings/perspectives/etc. to those other Christians, too
- Celebrating our diversity in Christ’s unity is the beauty of the church, and it’s another vital way that we are called to shine out as examples to the world.
If I have literally nothing else in common with an old man at my church, I still have Christ in common. And that’s not a trivial tie. No. We have both been adopted by the same Lord of the universe and creator of all. We have the same redeemer, same mission, same enemy, same family. While our struggles and our strengths may differ, that ought to only serve to unite us.
I’m not saying that you should stop spending time with your best Christian friends, or that you need to suddenly change your seating chart during assemblies (although, why not try a new pew…). I’m just saying check yourself. God created the church the way he did for a reason. He tells the old men and women to instruct the young ones. Our various ages and walks of life should serve as ways for us to encourage and serve one another, not as features to help us voluntarily segregate ourselves. My mom used her dorky homeschool kids both to encourage old, sick, elderly people and to give a bit of a break to a young mom who needed it. She found ways to use her particular moment in life to serve fellow Christians who were in different steps. Sure, she had friends her age, too, but she didn’t limit herself to her own age group.
Maybe spending time with a alternately-aged Christian sounds really boring to you. Or maybe it sounds intimidating. Or awkward. You probably won’t have as much in common with them, right off the bat. But the Christian life isn’t about what’s easy or convenient, and often times the most rewarding relationships are the unexpected ones.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with forming close relationships with people who you’re close in age with. I’m just saying distance in age is no excuse to ignore people. I’m grateful God gave me a mom who can see past ages and superficial differences, because obviously I’m not wise enough to get there on my own. I’m very grateful for my current church family, because I’ve had the opportunity to be forced into real relationships with people ages 7-70. I’m grateful that God put me into relationship with a congregation of musically and youthfully challenged people, and I’m humiliated to admit the biases and superficiality that would have prevented me from building relationship with them (if I’d been the one selecting a congregation). I would have missed out on getting to know and grow with some of the most amazing, generous, caring Christians around. I would have missed out on countless fireside chats, evening home bible studies, and shared meals. I would have missed out on my crazy quirky California family. on the laughs and tears and hugs. on watching those little girls grow up, and on saying goodbye to the elderly that pass. I would have missed out on finding commonality with people who look like Christ, all because I was preoccupied with finding people who were more like me.
Present(s under the tree):
This Christmas break was different. My mom has a church family. When I met them, I wasn’t looking for “my group.” I was blessed to get to know an amazing group of Christ-followers of all ages, and it was beautiful. Cue random Christmas montage: